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The Church of Georgia is one of the oldest Christian churches, tracing its origins in tradition to the missionary efforts of the Apostle Andrew in the first century. Historically, adoption of Christianity by the kingdom of Georgia (Iberia) is traced to the missionary efforts of St. Nino of Cappadocia beginning in early fourth century. Initially, the Georgian church was part of the territory of the Patriarchate of Antioch. The church was granted autocephaly by the Patriarch of Antioch in 466. While seriously disrupted by the invasions of the various Tartar tribes in the 13th and 15th centuries, the autocephalous church survived until it was placed under the administration of the synodal Church of Russia in 1811. After the abdication of Czar Nicholas II following the February Revolution of 1917, the Georgian hierarchs restored the church's autocephaly, which was eventually recognized by the Church of Constantinople and the Church of Russia.

Catholicate of Iberia
The Church of Georgia
Founder(s) Apostles Andrew, Simon the Canaanite
Autocephaly/Autonomy declared Antioch in 486, Russia in 1917
Autocephaly/Autonomy recognized 486, again 1990
Current primate Patr. Ilia II
Headquarters Tbilisi, Georgia
Primary territory Georgia, Armenia
Possessions abroad Great Britain, Western Europe, Turkey, Azerbaijan
Liturgical language(s) Georgian
Musical tradition Georgian Chant
Calendar Julian Calendar
Population estimate 3,500,000
Official website Church of Georgia

Ancient origins

According to tradition, the Apostle Andrew, the First Called, preached in Georgia in the first century. Tradition relates that he came with the Holy Mother's Uncreated Icon, that is the icon of the Theotokos not made by human hands. This tradition introduced a deep affection for the Theotokos into Georgian conscientiousness. Additionally, tradition speaks to preaching by other apostles in Georgia including Simon the Canaanite, Matthias, Bartholomew, and Thaddeus. The establishment of the first Georgian eparchy (diocese) was also credited to the Apostle Andrew.

The active history of Christianity in Georgia begins with the missionary activities of Nino of Cappadocia beginning in 303. By 317 her message reached the rulers of the eastern and western kingdoms of Georgia when King Miriam II of Iberia (Eastern Georgia) and Queen Nana of Western Georgia adopted Christianity as the state religion. The Christianization of Georgia progressed over the next several centuries.

As part of the late Roman (Byzantine) Empire Georgian Christianity was heavily influenced by its form of practice. Initially, the churches in Georgia were part of the Apostolic See of Antioch. The Church of Georgia became autocephalous when the Patriarch of Antioch elevated the bishop of Mtskheta to the honor of Catholicos of Kastli in 466, an elevation recognized by the rest of the Church. Subsequently, the Catholicos was given the added title of Patriarch in 1010, making the title of the primate of the Georgian Church the Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia.

The invasions of the tartars in the 13th and 15th centuries greatly disrupted Christianity and the government of Georgia. The state as well as the church were divided into two separate parts, in which the churches were governed by two separate Catholicos-Patriarchs. In 1801, Eastern Georgia, that is Kartli-Kakheti, was annexed by the Czar of Russia. By 1811, the Church in Georgia was absorbed into the Synodal Church of Russia, ending autocephaly for the Georgian church.

Recent history

As the Russian Empire began to dissolve after the abdication of Czar Nicholas II following the 1917 February Revolution, the Georgian hierarchs unilaterally announced restoration of autocephaly. While not accepted by the Church of Russia, the Soviet forces went further, regarding all Orthodox in Soviet territory to be subjected to their rule. Thus, the Church in Georgia was harassed and churches and other church activities were closed. Clergy, monks, and Christians in general were killed in the ensuing purges of the next several decades.

With recognition of the Orthodox Church by Stalin after the 1941 Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, to gain support of the Church for repulsing the invasion, the autocephaly of the Church of Georgia was recognized in 1943 by the Church of Russia. Then, in 1989, autocephaly was recognized by the Patriarch of Constantinople, thus approving the de facto autocephaly exercised since the fifth century.

In Abkhazia, a region within Georgia which has declared itself an independent state (recognized by Russia, Nicaragua and South Ossetia), Georgian church authorities have largely been prevented from exercising any authority, and the Abkhazian leadership has exiled the diocesan bishop appointed by the Catholicosate. Functioning within the area is the so-called Abkhazian Orthodox Church, which is as yet unrecognized by any other Orthodox church, although it has been given some practical support by the Church of Russia.[1] The breakaway diocese is now seeking to become a self-governed church under the Moscow Patriarchate.[2]


With the downfall of the Soviet Union and the resulting independence of the country of Georgia, a great revival has taken place for the Church of Georgia. As of 2002, more than eighty percent of the population of Georgia has identified themselves as Orthodox Christians. The church itself was organized into 33 dioceses, with 512 churches. The church in Georgia of some 3.5 million people was served by 730 priests.

Primatial title

The full title of the primate of the Church of Georgia is: "His Holiness and Beatitude, Catholicos-Patriarch of all Georgia, Archbishop of Mtskheta and Tbilisi" (Georgian: უწმიდესი და უნეტარესი, სრულიად საქართველოს კათოლიკოს-პატრიარქი, მცხეთა-თბილისის მთავარეპისკოპოსი).

Recent Catholicos-Patriarchs of All Georgia

(See full list)

  • Kirion II (1917-1918)
  • Leonide (1918-1921)
  • Ambrosi (1921-1927)
  • Christefore III (1927-1932)
  • Kalistrare (1932-1952)
  • Melkisedek III (1952-1960)
  • Eprem II (1960-1072)
  • David V (1972-1977)
  • Ilia II (1977 to present)

Dioceses of Georgia

  • Dioceses in Georgia
    • Diocese of Mtskheta and Tbilisi
    • Diocese of Alaverdi
    • Diocese of Akhalkalaki and Kumurdo
    • Diocese of Batumi and Skhalta
    • Diocese of Bodbe
    • Diocese of Bolnisi
    • Diocese of Borjomi and Bakuriani
    • Diocese of Chiatura
    • Diocese of Chqondidi
    • Diocese of Dmanisi
    • Diocese of Khoni and Samtredia
    • Diocese of Kutais-Gaenati
    • Diocese of Manglisi and Tsalka
    • Diocese of Margveti and Ubisa
    • Diocese of Mestia and Svaneti
    • Diocese of Nikortsminda
    • Diocese of Nikozi and Tskhinvali
    • Diocese of Poti and Khobi
    • Diocese of Rustavi and Marneuli
    • Diocese of Samtavisi and Gori
    • Diocese of Senaki and Chkhorotsqu
    • Diocese of Shemokmedi
    • Diocese of Stephantsminda and Khevi
    • Diocese of Tsageri and Lentekhi
    • Diocese of Tsilkani and Dusheti
    • Diocese of Tskhum-Apkhazeti
    • Diocese of Urbnisi and Ruisi
    • Diocese of Vani and Bagdati
    • Diocese of Zugdidi and Tsaishi
  • Dioceses partly abroad Georgia
    • Diocese of Akhaltsikhe, Tao-Klarjeti and Lazeti (partly in Turkey)
    • Diocese of Nekresi and Hereti (partly in Azerbaijan)
  • Dioceses abroad Georgia
    • Diocese of Agaraki and Tashiri (Armenia)
    • Diocese of West Europe (Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria)

Further reading

  • Christopher Haas. "Mountain Constantines: The Christianization of Aksum and Iberia." Journal of Late Antiquity, Volume 1, Number 1, Spring 2008. pp.101-126.
(At the beginning of the fourth century, Ezana I of Aksum and Mirian III of Iberia espoused Christianity, much like their better-known contemporary, Constantine the Great. The religious choices made by the monarchs of these two mountain polities was but one stage in a prolonged process of Christianization within their respective kingdoms. This study utilizes a comparative approach in order to examine the remarkably similar dynamics of religious transformation taking place in these kingdoms between the fourth and late sixth centuries. The cultural choice made by these monarchs and their successors also factored into, and were influenced by, the fierce competition between Rome and Sassanian Persia for influence in these strategically important regions.)

External links